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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #26

Twenty-six weeks.  That's a half a year since the Nets have played basketball as a team, 26 off-season reports. Ugh. With less than two days to go before David Stern's Monday deadline for canceling regular season games, we're hopeful that the two sides will do a deal and open the floodgates of free agency, amnesty, rookie signings, etc.

So that's where we're focused, on things like how to read Russian tea leaves about CSKA Moscow's signing of Andrei Kirilenko; who to look for when amnesty takes effect; why we think the Nets almost made two of the worst free agent signings last year, where to check out videos of European prospects, etc. We also take a look at Mikhail Prokhorov's continuing political ambitions, Bob MacKinnon's first experience with developing a Nets player and our new favorite basketball video.

Every Sunday, we’ll be updating the Nets off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, etc. to help take the edge off missing the playoffs, and of course, the lockout. We will rely on the Nets’ beat reporters and others who slip interesting stuff into larger stories, blogs, our own reporting and analysis.

AK-47 and the Nets

You'd have to think Andrei Kirilenko is on the Nets' short list for that missing piece at (either) forward, with all his skills and Russian heritage.  Billy King was reportedly talking to Kevin O'Connor about him last February when the conversation shifted to another member of the Jazz. Of course, we know little about how Deron Williams feels about his former teammate, other than a tweet from his friend and assistant Matt Mitnick that mentioned AK-47's lack of durability and noted that the question is much?

Now, Kirilenko is back in Moscow, signed to a three-year "NBA out" contract with CSKA Moscow, Mikhail Prokhorov's old team. The other signature on the contract is that of Andrei Vatutin, CSKA's president and the man Prokhorov offered a Nets assistant GM position last year.  Vatutin turned down the job but relations remain good.  Also, Sergey Kushchenko, the Nets new director, was Euroleague executive of the year while running CSKA. (Kushchenko, it should be noted, pointedly told NetsDaily back in June, "Mikhail has said many times, and I fully agree with him, that we are not looking to bring Europeans, including Russians, into the Nets as a goal in itself. To build a winning franchise, you have to have only one goal in mind: to get the best possible people, no matter where they are.")

Does this mean AK-47 is likely or unlikely to join the Nets?  Don't know, but as of late, we've heard the names Tayshaun Prince and Caron Butler a lot more frequently than Kirilenko's. Still, the CSKA connection will once again raise the speculation which began the minute Prokhorov's name was first associated with the Nets.

Stern disses D-Will

Lost in last week's press briefing by David Stern was this exchange, as reported by Ira Winderman in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Asked about Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant's since-aborted bid to play in Italy, Stern was coy and curt during last week's lockout media session. "A player who makes $16 million is going to make $3 million in Turkey, and a player who makes $5 million here is going to make $1 million in China," the commissioner said, alluding to Deron Williams and, perhaps, J.R. Smith. "We have no reaction other than, 'Be safe, come back when we settle.' "

There's been no response from Williams.

Brooklyn Nets - When?

The Nets won't officially become the Brooklyn Nets until next season, but what happens in the (unlikely) event the season is canceled in January and the team rolls out the new team logo, colors and uniforms in February, as currently planned?  Does it make any sense to keep calling them the New Jersey Nets if they're never going to play another game in the state?  Who's going to want to make that call?

It's not a possibility we're looking forward to.  No farewell to New Jersey at the Rock.  No weeks of over-hyped nostalgia (okay, we can probably live without that) and what if they make the playoffs and every crucial game won't be about just elimination but about the end of an era? In a sports sense, that's bittersweet and the stuff of drama.

You're starting to see subtle evidence of the shift in likely and unlikely places. Last week, of course, it was the naming event at the arena.  This week, Gary Sussman tweeted an image of a new Brooklyn mural at the Nets headquarters in East Rutherford. The team will continue to train and maintain basketball operations offices in New Jersey through their first year in Brooklyn. By year two, however, the Nets are expected to be in a new training facility, probably in New York. Soon, you'll start to hear more about moving the team's business offices from that converted warehouse in East Rutherford to a high-rise space in Brooklyn. No doubt it will be a Bruce Ratner-owned space.  The Nets have already looked at three locations, one across Atlantic Avenue from the arena.

Prokhorov back to business?  Nope

Mikhail Prokhorov has been silent the last week or so, but that is expected to change on Monday.  A political ally says he may lay out future plans then and they are likely to be more about Russia than ONEXIM or the Nets.

"I think that he will now be more into politics than into business," Evegeny Roizman told a Moscow paper. "He continues to insist that he is not into short-term projects. He's not going to stop. He has many supporters. There's a search for new forms of work: it will be either a party or a movement. No hurry, but the details could appear as early as Monday."

Prokhorov has been staying in Moscow awaiting a call to meet with President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, barely leaving his offices at ONEXIM so he can quickly head to Russian government offices just outside the Kremlin.  After resigning from "Right Cause" and criticizing the Russian system of managed democracy, he asked for a meeting with either of the two men.  Neither has responded...other than to dump him from the country's modernization commission.

Owners' mistakes...theirs, not ours

We find it interesting that Michael Jordan, owner, is opposed to big salaries for players, but as a union rep he went after owners who couldn't make a big enough profit, saying they should just sell their teams. Of course, he stands to become much richer if the CBA is restrictive. He paid so little for the Bobcats and could, with some help from a new CBA, sell high.  At least, that's what Forbes is reporting.

Of course, that assumes he doesn't make any more he has over the past several of which we are happy he made since it saved the Nets from having two of the worst signings of 2010.

On July 9 of 2010, fearful that the Nets were going to swoop in and grab him, Jordan signed Tyrus Thomas to a five year, $40 million deal. That was $5 million more than Travis Outlaw (signed the day before). It didn't end there. Knowing the Nets were willing to give Thomas a front-loaded offer sheet, the Bobcats agreed to a 17.5 percent bonus up front, meaning Thomas earned $12 million last season. After tearing his meniscus, Thomas played half a season, 41 games (two starts), while averaging 10.2, 5.5 and 0.7 and shooting 47%.

Now Jordan must decide if he wants to amnesty Thomas who's owed $33 million on the books and has a history of underachieving and injuries. More likely, he'll try to dump some of his other mistakes: DeSagana Diop, who's owed $14 million and still can't shoot, or Corey Maggette, who's owed $21.1 million and is still a ball hog, or Matt Carroll, who's still one-dimensional and owed $7.4 million.  If you're looking for bright spots in last summer's free agency for the Nets, not signing Thomas was one of them.

Amnesty rules

Speaking of amnesty, below is a list we put together of the players who've been mentioned as amnesty candidates if, as reported, teams are permitted to "amnesty" one of their own once the lockout ends.  Several teams would have to choose between a number of candidates like the Bobcats and the Magic, but others like the Spurs, Wizards, Suns and Pacers have no-brainer choices.  Oh yeah, the Nets do too.

So here's the possibilities, based on what we've been reading.

Outlaw, Maggette, Thomas, Carroll, Diop, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Baron Davis, Brendan Haywood, Al Harrington, Richard Hamilton, Charlie Bell, Andris Biedrins, Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn, Chris Kaman, James Posey, Luke Walton, Mike Miller, Darko Milicic, Drew Gooden, Beno Udrih, Brad Miller, Nikola Pekovic, Renaldo Balkman, Nate Robinson, Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Elton Brand, Andres Nocioni, Josh Childress, Brandon Roy, John Salmons, Francisco Garcia, Richard Jefferson, Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, Mehmet Okur, Rashard Lewis.

This of course would dramatically expand the free agent pool if not improve it. All these players have flaws or they wouldn't be on the list.  Who would win in an least as it's been reported? Rich teams and rich players.  As Chris Bernucca of Sheridan Hoops reported, the Heat would be crazy not to pursue Lewis at a minimum salary or near to it. And since some, if not most, of these players will have more than one suitor, they may be able to parlay their buyout deal with a new, somewhat above minimum salary contract.  Those are some reasons why we think the amnesty rule, when it's finally written, will not look like what's been reported.

Bob MacKinnon's first foray in Nets player development

The Nets hired Bob MacKinnon to be coach of the Springfield Armor because of his record as a coach, having won the D-League title with the Colorado 14ers in 2009 and because he has a remarkable record of developing players, based on his call-up record.  But his job as Armor coach won't be the first time he's been called upon to help develop a Nets player.

It was MacKinnon who was asked to work with Sean Williams in Colorado back in 2008-09 and then dispatched him back to New Jersey with a "return to sender" stamp.

Here's how we reported it back then.

Dave D’Alessandro writes Saturday about Sean Williams’ tour of duty in Colorado and the reason why he came home so soon.

It wasn’t because he was ready.

According to D'Alessandro:"Lawrence Frank spoke with Colorado coach Bob MacKinnon about Sean Williams before he was returned to sender.

"'Coach said he had some good moments and some, uh, other moments,' Frank said. Asked what his player got out of the eight-game stint with the 14ers, Frank replied, 'It was, uh, an experience for him ... but at least he got to play.'

"According to Nets officials, Williams was miserable -- late for a practice and a disruptive influence, is the common refrain -- leading MacKinnon to strongly endorse his return to Jersey for more individual attention".

No one is holding that against MacKinnon considering Sean Williams' downward spiral after that...and of course, we hope "Bob Mack" has a chance to work with Nets players and not just those who Milton Lee drafts next month.

Our favorite new video

There is in China group of Pacers fans (hey, it's a big country, there are groups of everything!) who decided to re-enact the biggest moments in Reggie Miller's career, including Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference finals, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, and Game 5 of 2002's first round, that titanic struggle that decided the Nets' fate as a franchise (Remember, later reviews showed that there was no way he could have gotten that shot off in time.)

We cannot believe a Pacer fan blog trashed the effort!  Get a life, bloggisist.

And our favorite new YouTube Channel

TheDrizzleIsLocal is a British basketball fan who set up his YouTube channel back in August, just before the FIBA Eurobasket.  His channel is filled with video highlights of European players, mostly NBA prospects, including Bojan Bogdanovic, as they play in all manner of leagues and tournaments.  He edits the highlights from European TV and posts them, often within hours.

Other than the Bogdanovic highlights, take look at Jonas Valanciunas highlights vs Germany in the Eurobasket and tell us that the Jazz did the smart thing by taking Enes Kanter over Valanciunas with the Nets' pick back in June. The Lithuanian seven footer played well against both Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. He even has a skyhook!

Final Note

By Monday, we will know the fate of the season's first two weeks and unfortunately maybe more. Sides will harden once the prospects of lost games and lost revenues set in. Divisions within the union and ownership could get worse. Free-lancing among both sides is likely and will confuse the issue. Grandstanding will be the order of he day.

On the other hand, if the first two weeks are canceled, it's still not a given that all 82 games will be lost.  Schedule makers know who to call in arenas around the NBA to see where games can be fit.  It won't be easy. We continue to hope for the best and know that if the Nets need to get D-Will back t the US, there's a Gulfstream V at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow that can hold a family of six and serves only the best champagne.